Category Archives: House

All the tiny beauties, pt. I

I start with the gleaming red kettle, half-full of cold water, on the back-right eye of the range.

I turn a task light on, highlighting her smooth curves and sturdy handle, then I summon the spirit of fire under her chrome bottom.

Next, I open a waxed paper bag; feel the stiff texture under my fingers.

I pour the beans – small, dark, hard – into the bell of the grinder. Those beans have had a long journey, but most recently, came from some folks just down the road who do the roasting.

I grasp the grinder around its waist with my left hand, and start turning the crank with my right. I can feel my muscles flex a little as I work, and my body rocks slightly side-to-side in time with my efforts.

Work done, I put my nose into the grinder’s opening and inhale greedily. Fresh-ground coffee.

After I clear out yesterday’s grounds from the glass French press, I add today’s coffee. I pour it in slowly, letting it waterfall from grinder to press, enjoying the tumbling interplay of tiny, fragrant brown boulders.

Next is time.

Time for the kettle to do her thing. Time for me to write another half-page, ink spidering across paper; smudging on fingers.

Then, hot water – steaming, but not boiling, if I’ve done my job right. I carry the kettle to the press (never the other way ’round), and pour generously over those new grounds.

I rotate the press as I pour, thirds of a circle at a time, wetting all the coffee evenly. The grounds rise and make foam – iridescent at first, then muting into milk chocolate.

And the aroma. Oh, my nose! Heaven!

I put the lid of the press on, the better to keep its precious contents warm.

And more time.

One tradition dictates three minutes of steeping. Another says I’ll get lost in words for a while more, before eventually being tugged back to the press by my nose.

Next is the plunge.

I’ll slowly push the plunger of the press down, feeling the growing resistance of the grounds, watching my coffee clear from swirling morass to “shut up and take my money!”

I lift the press, feeling it’s heat and full weight, and pour into my mug, steam rising in a prayer of thanksgiving.

My mug.

My coffee mug was made by a potter I knew. He was the first person I ever worked for. Starting at the age of 12, I was his gopher: weighed clay, mixed glazes, mowed the lawn, helped him pack for shows, babysat his boys.

He made this mug for me 16 years ago as a wedding gift.

It’s volume is right. It’s a little bigger than average, but not grotesque  like a gas station’s plastic flagon. The handle fits two of my fingers perfectly, with no wiggle room; no sloppy questions for my early morning.

And the glaze… Deep red interior that highlights the ridges from the potter’s fingers; Blue and tan and hen-mottled white on the outside with more splashes of red.

Once this work of art is full of my morning’s elixer, it starts radiating warmth into my hand. And sometimes against my cheek, if I’m feeling particularly needy.

Coffee in the mug, it’s time for the penultimate step: Cream.

It’s organic half-n-half for me. Smooth, thick, white, curling and blooming into – as one friend called the color – “cardboard.” Enough cream to smooth out the coffee, to shave down its rough, acidic edge, but not so much as to hide the drink’s essential character.

If I’m feeling especially decadent, this is also the time I’ll add a large spoonful of maple syrup to my mug. You haven’t lived…

Finally, it’s time for that first slurping sip.

The coffee flows over my tongue, spreading its smooth, hot, bitterness throughout my mouth, evoking ten thousand other moments of similar early-morning pleasure.

I sigh, and am content, surrounded in the beauty of this moment.

Dissapointment Brown

I’ve got a keg full of brown ale. And it’s ok. But not great. I had high-ish hopes for this batch, but honestly, it tastes a whole lot like the red ale I made before. Heck, for that matter, it looks pretty similar, too. It’s got the same thin mouth feel, and occasionally, I get a whiff of wort (mostly the wet barley part) from my glass.

Of course, I did learn a little somethin’ somethin’ from this batch: The Brewer’s Best kits are pretty much crap. I mean, I kind of suspected, but this is just icing on the cake. And now I’ve got a keg full of the stuff, that I’m gonna have to suck down. *sigh* The things I do for my beer…

Of course, it’s not all bad new on the brew front: I also have a carboy of IPA made from a Northern Brewer kit that I’m really looking forward to. It’s sitting in the basement at about 55 degrees, (hopefully) clarifying and gaining a little character for the glass.

I’m thinking, though, that it’s time to move away from kits on to partial — or even full! — mash brews that I can control completely. Look out beerville; here I come!

Three years, +/- 10 percent, in April, no less

Goddamn it! it’s that time again.

Every three years, give or take a little, I start getting restless and something usually gives. Sometimes, it’s the job that goes (witness my tenure at The Press), sometimes the house (or something with it); sometimes it’s just my attitude. Oh, and did I mention how I absolutely loathe the completely useless month of April?

My job isn’t going out the window this time around; I like it way too much. Though I do have a confession: I’ve been doing my pilot routine again. Hell, I might even get myself worked up to the point of taking lessons this time; anything’s possible. My house isn’t going out the window, either. I mean, really, who’d buy this dilapidated piece of crap, anyway?

Apparently, it’s my attitude that’s going to get the make-over this time around, then. Instead of dwelling on the nasty, muddy, wood chippy shit-hole (literally, around the dog house) that is the yard, maybe I can look at the bright side of things: Wow, that rabbit has gotten really fat and juicy-looking by eating our apple tree and tulips.

Household of drinkers

Yeah, that’s us, alright. Here at Casa del Beest, we take our drinkin’ seriously. It’s Sunday morning, and we’ve got two kinds of tea (one a chai-style thingie made from “scratch” — no, I didn’t go out and pick tasty looking twigs…) and some orange juice on tap. Friday evening, The Boy and I racked five gallons of brown ale into secondary fermentation. Pretty much anytime, any day, we’re up for a good cup of coffee. Perhaps the two biggest signs of how into our cups we are:

  1. The taste of the water can make it or break it (we prefer “wet” with no discernable gas, mineral, or other contaminents), and has occasionally resulted in raised voices
  2. The Boy has never met a cup/glass/bottle of something he didn’t like, especially if it comes in a combo like milk-root beer-ginger beer-coffee-milk-regular beer.

Update, part II

Well, The Boy has only peed on the floor three times this afternoon. Of course, he’s also peed on the couch three times. Let’s hear it for the first day of potty training! He’s getting better, though. He made it to his potty once, and once, when I asked him, “Do you need to pee?” the answer was yes. Definitively. We even almost made it to the potty. 😉

Boyz

The Boy and Number Two are doing well. The Boy is full of energy, bouncing, dancing, and spinning around the house, helping me brew, and yes, peeing on the floor. Number Two is full of smiles for everyone but me, apparently, though just today, I finally got him to smile by singing some goofy made-up blues variant. He (Number Two) is also holding his head up by himself for a minute or two at a crack, not to mention getting more and more interested in looking around.

Beer

I made a Northern Brewer IPA kit yesterday, and all went really well, except that I killed my yeast before I even pitched it. Yeah, I left it in the car in freezing temperatures. But only for a couple weeks. *sigh* I ran into the local BPC, grabbed a packet of ale yeast, and pitched that this afternoon. We’ll see what happens. And in the meantime, I’ve got my drink on with the help of a 750mL Rare Vos Belgian-style amber ale. Yummy, fizzy, and fruity. Thanks Ellen & Steve!

Bread

After almost a whole year with nothing in the house but homemade and bakery bread, I have a couple of observations:

  1. Store-bought bread is invariably crappy, spongy, flavorless nothing
  2. The Wife still hasn’t learned how to make a straight cut in a fresh loaf 😉

As you were.

Beer Here

Hooray! Hooray! There’s Beer in the house again.

Sure, there’s the normal micro/regional brews in the beer drawer in the bottom of the fridge (yet another benefit of living with a vegetarian: a used-to-be-empty cold-storage for brew), but as of my birthday, there’s also made-it-myself Beer in situ.

In the middle of the day on my birthday last week, while I was washing some dishes, I turned to The Wife and exclaimed, “I know what I want for my birthday: a homebrew kit!”

“That’s funny,” she replied with a grin, “that’s what I was thinking of getting you.”

A couple days later, we went over to the scummy, nasty little BPC* store that just happens to have an expansive selection of homebrew equipment, and I picked out a box full of equipment and a red ale kit.

Now for those of you who don’t know, I started brewing when I was 17, after a visit to UC-Boulder, during which I spent the night at a friend’s house and helped him and his roomie bottle a batch of brew. I also had one to drink, and I think it pretty much kicked my ass. Anyway, the next morning, I announced to my parents that I was going to start brewing, too. Like all good parents, they made appreciative noises, nodded their heads, and probably hoped I’d forget about it somewhere in the middle of Nebraska on the drive home.

No such luck. The first week back from that trip, I went to the closest brew store (a 45-minute drive away), dropped about $120 on equipment and a kit, came home and proceeded to make stout. Which tasted a lot like warm, flat soy sauce before it got bottle conditioned. A couple weeks later, it tasted like cold, barely-carbonated soy sauce. But I drank all 52 bottles. I mean, really, I had to; it was a matter of saving face.

I don’t remember making beer between then and when I left for college, but I certainly remember hauling all my brewing paraphernalia to school, and I made a “kitchen sink” batch in which I used up all my bits and bobs of ingrediants, plus a little crystal malt and a bunch of Cascades hops. I did my boil in the kitchen of another dorm so I’d stink up that rez hall, and I fermented the brew under my desk in my dorm room. After I bottled, I made a batch of root beer and cream soda so I had a good reason to get the RA to help me haul a bunch of cases of full beer bottles into the storage room. That was the best batch of beer I’ve made to-date, and of course, I have no records of what I did. *sigh*

After brewing a few more times in college, I figured that hauling around my brewing stuff was too much work, so I gave it all to a friend who put it to good use. That was 12 years ago.

Now I’m back! And oddly enough, the batch that I just racked into secondary fermentation seemed a whole lot easier to make than I remember. It was easier to do, easier to clean up from, and hopefully, it’ll be nice and easy to drink. So far, so good, but I’ll report back on it when it comes out of the bottle for the first time in about three or four weeks.

*Beer, Porn, and Chips

Forgetful bread man

We’re out of bread. So, like a good hubby, I told The Wife I’d make some more. Now this is no big deal; I’ve made loaves hundreds of times. Heck, I don’t even use a recipe any more; I just *make bread*.

Except when I mix everything together, knead it all up, then go to bead, forgetting my poor, abandoned bread on the counter, like I did last night. Uh, oooops.

I woke up this morning at about quarter-’til-five thinking, “Gosh – there’s bread downstairs.” So I came down and did a second knead, formed loaves, and in a while, I’ll have some fresh bread for breakfast. There are worse things in the world.

Make like aj and split

Well, rep one of my (patent-pending) workout program is complete. All my wood is cut. This weekend is the big split-a-thon.

Last night, I went to the local tool rental joint to pick up the splitter I reserved a few days ago. After I told the guy working the counter who I was and what I was after, he said, and this is an exact quote, “Uh oh.”

Turns out they rented both their regular splitters and didn’t hold one back for me. They did, however, have a 30-ton model they gave to me for the same price. So now, out in the yard sits a big ol’ bright red 30-ton hydraulic splitter surrounded by about a cord-and-a-half of split oak. Today and tomorrow, all I’m going to do, for as long as I can stand it, is split more wood.

Ach, Pete, me lad, where are ye when I need ye?

Let the workout begin

Each year, usually in the fall, I do a workout. There are only eight reps, but the first seven are somewhere in the neighborhood of 140,000 pounds. Yesterday, when it was 92 and humid, I got serious about rep one. Ugh.

So yeah, this year’s firewood arrived: fifteen cords of nice, fresh-cut red oak. Every year, I get a little better at managing this influx of wood, which is good, seeing as how it’s our only heat. This year, my plan is to try to cut a saw-tank’s worth of gas each evening after work. If I can do that, the pile really only oughtta take a couple weeks to get cut to length.

Then, the sooner the better, I’ll get a bunch of friends over and rent a hydraulic woodsplitter or two and we’ll go nuts for the weekend. Hopefully by mid-September, all my wood will be cut and split and partially stacked. And then I’ll relax in my chair and sip mai-tais while nubile slave girls fan me with palm fronds. Man, do I love this time of year!

Home Invasions

Our house was invaded this weekend. Twice.

First, a family of fat, dumb mice decided to come out of hiding and thumb their noses at our fatter, dumber cats. At one point, Meg and I watched incredulously as what surely must have been the world’s fattest mouse literally dragged it’s sagging belly in a complete circle around Sassafras, and then in a final kiss-my-ass salute, it actually crawled across her paws while she did nothing but sit there, motionless, watching.

Finally, our gay transvestite cat, Zeta, came to the rescue. After living at the Flying W ranch for four years, he finally hiked up his skirt and showed the other cats how it was done and wiped out two mice in one evening.

The next evening, Meg and I were firmly planted in front of the TV, getting our dose of head crack (that’d be season two of “24”) when the cats (who are at least good for this one thing) alerted us to our second invasion. Because we live in a crappy old, falling-down, piece of crap house, things occasionally go wrong. Say, like the roof leaking, saturating 70-year-old plaster that then succumbs to gravity leaving a gapping hole into the ‘tween-floors crawl space that’s attached to the gapping hole in the rotted soffits by a lot of dark, musty air. The sort of dark musty air that grackles just love.

We stood up to investigate, only to have a grackle smack into the upstairs door’s window. I immediately started planning how I was going to beat the bird into a pulp with the kitchen broom, then stuff its tenderized remains back in the attic and forget the whole thing.

Meg, thinking a little more rationally, went around to the front of the house and opened the door, let the bird out, then cleaned the bird shit off the stairs.